The two biology experts–one a biophysicist, one a biochemist–were studying microbes, the single-cell organisms found all over the planet, to see how they could be used as building blocks to produce new renewable materials. Sick of how slow the typical process can be, testing 10 ideas or so a month, they looked to robots to speed up their painstaking lab process at Amyris.
Soon Jed Dean and Zach Serber were teaming up with a business contact of theirs outside of their company to start their own startup that would approach discovering ideal microbes for industrial production in a new way. They’d test thousands of strains using a combination of robots, big data and machine learning to cover many times more combinations in a period of time.
The startup would be called Zymergen. Its promise: to tackle microbes like a big data problem to quickly discover more “designer” microbes to produce basic industrials like plastic. If a custom-designed microbe saved a large industrial company or similar client millions off its manufacturing process in chemicals, agriculture or food, Zymergen would get a cut.